Rarely is a typeface introduced with as much fanfare as a new movie, book or song. But when it is created by Matthew Carter, the first typeface designer to be awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, the unveiling is almost a celebrity event. And if you're a graphic designer, taking it out for a test drive (which is how sampling a typeface is sometimes referred to these days) is much anticipated.
The recently released Carter Sans is the first of Carter's more than two dozen original typefaces — which include Bell Centennial, Bitstream Charter, ITC Galliard, Mantinia, Snell Roundhand and Verdana — to bear his own name. It is a hybrid sans serif (meaning without the little feet), known to some as "flare serif" and others as "glyphic serif," owing to the ever-so-slight inscriptional accent (or flare) at the ends of the strokes. Carter said that only a few such typefaces exist, including Friz Quadrata, Icone and Albertus, and he had never designed one before.
"Actually, Albertus was always a favorite of mine," Carter said of the typeface, which was designed by the German-Jewish émigré Berthold Wolpe in the 1930s, and which was subsequently used for all the graphics on "The Prisoner," the 1960s TV show. "But I didn't set out to imitate Berthold's face or any other."
Carter, who has done many revivals of vintage typefaces (redrawing them to conform to current aesthetics and technologies), was commissioned by Alan Haley of Monotype Imaging, a text-imaging company, to make a new sans serif — because they sell well these days — out of one of his more popular serif typefaces, ITC Charter. "After a fair amount of experimentation and several rounds of design attempts, he confessed to me over lunch one day that the design 'just wasn't happening,'" Haley explained. So Carter changed his focus, toward a design that he had been thinking about for a while and found, to his surprise, that he was totally engaged in making the capital letters.
When designing, Carter views capitals as initials for lower case letters, routinely spending most of his time focused on the lower-case character sets. But for this new type he became "hooked on capitals" and "very attentive to how they looked together." There is an elegant, chiseled, inscriptional quality to the caps that at once suggests the past but telegraphs the present. This was demonstrated at the 2010 Art Directors Club Hall of Fame ceremony, at which Carter was an inductee. Michael Bierut and Joe Marianek of Pentagram New York designed the gala's graphic identity, which included a series of postcards with clever quotations from design legends like Seymour Chwast (shown here), using Carter Sans all caps in a kind of sneak preview. The type was so stunningly set that designers wondered whether there was a lower case. (Designers worth their salt become uncontrollably ecstatic when they see stunning type.)
Type design can be a solitary process, but for this project Carter collaborated with Dan Reynolds, a senior type designer at Monotype Imaging's Linotype subsidiary. Carter designed the Roman, italic and a few trial characters for other weights, while Reynolds oversaw the character set development and font production for the rest of the characters. Carter explained that as type designers go, there are those who have a strong personal style and who name faces after themselves, and others who are more eclectic and use historically derived names. "I am the latter," he said. "I don't have a huge personal investment in a type that is the essential me. I am happy to have my name on the face, but it is not my last word."